Sudan says foreign monitors to arrive on Wednesday

March 6 (Reuters)

Sudan expects international observers to arrive on Wednesday to monitor a ceasefire agreement between government and rebel forces in the vast African state's 19-year-old civil war, a leading newspaper said.

"A joint military committee will arrive in Khartoum today to monitor the ceasefire between the government and the rebel movement in the Nuba Mountains sector in implementation of the Swiss agreement," the daily al-Anbaa said, quoting a government statement.

In January, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLA/SPLM) and Khartoum signed an agreement under U.S. and Swiss mediation, to allow humanitarian relief to the Nuba mountains in central Sudan.

But the ceasefire did not encompass two civilian towns in the south, which were attacked by government forces last month, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding many others.

"The arrival of the committee is considered the official resumption of dialogue between the government and the American administration," al-Anbaa said.

The United States said on Tuesday that a deal was emerging with Sudan to end the Khartoum government's bombing of civilians, which led to a suspension of U.S. mediation in the conflict last month.

A U.S. official said on Tuesday that about 20 international monitors would be based in Khartoum and another 10 or 20 in the south -- probably Europeans mainly but also some Americans, and possibly Africans and representatives of Arab states.

According to al-Anbaa, the monitoring committee arriving on Wednesday will be composed of nine people, including six Sudanese and three foreigners, led by a Norwegian.

The ceasefire for the Nuba mountains came into effect on January 22 and is renewable after six months. The deal said international observers would monitor how it is implemented from March 20.

Since 1983, rebels have been fighting the government for greater autonomy for the largely Christian and animist south from the mainly Muslim, Arab north. The conflict in Africa's largest country has killed around two million people.